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Spectrum

In Session at TPRC, Michael Calabrese of New America Emphasizes Vital Role of Spectrum Sharing

Benjamin Kahn

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Screenshot of Michael Calabrese from the webinar

February 18, 2021—The United States must institute a spectrum sharing policy to maximize efficient use of the critical airwaves, the director of New America’s Wireless Future project said Thursday.

Michael Calabrese, of the non-profit foundation long-standing project focusing on radio frequency spectrum issues, said “opportunistic spectrum sharing,” whereby incumbent users for a specific band of spectrum share it with other users, should be seriously considered for coverage.

Calabrese outlined the primary points of his January paper called “Use it or Share It: A New Default Policy for Spectrum Management” during a paper session of TPRC, formerly the Telecommunications Policy Research Conference, on Thursday.

Calabrese conceded that running out of usable spectrum was not a new concern. He gave the example of the broadcast television spectrum incentive auction.

Even though the license to use certain bands of spectrum were already owned, in 2014 the Federal Communications Commission began to auction bands off for other uses on a volunteer basis. That is, television providers that were not using their allotted bands could sell the rights to use them to other providers, thus ensuring the effective use of spectrum.

Sharing spectrum already in use

According to Calabrese, ensuring the use of unused and underutilized parts of the spectrum is only a part of the picture. Sharing spectrum that is already being used must also be considered. He stated that traditional policies made to auction and clear spectrum could not hope to meet projected demand and that band sharing would be necessary.

As an example, Calabrese pointed to the military radar spectrum on the 3100 MegaHertz (MHz) to 3550 MHz band. Though these bands are currently dedicated to the U.S. military’s long-range surveillance and fleet air defense radar systems, Calabrese stated that the FCC has identified this band as potentially sharable and will be auctioning off bands of spectrum that fall within this range as soon as this month.

“The first principle of opportunistic spectrum sharing is that secondary users do no harm to incumbent services,” Calabrese said. In the context of the aforementioned example, this would mean that anyone sharing bands with military radar systems could not compromise the military’s ability to use their radar.

But this would not mean that incumbent users would have no obligations to those they are sharing spectrum with.

More robust sharing policies and initiatives would bring several key benefits, Calabrese argued. He stated that such policies would allow for more efficient use of federal spectrum capacity; lower barriers of entry for more uses and users; promote service in rural and underserved areas; and promote secondary market transactions.

Calabrese said that the use-it-or-share-it approach serves a more positive addition to the older “use it or lose it” strategy, which he asserted is too punitive and draconian when used alone. He was not completely opposed to the “lose it” component but emphasized the benefits of using a combination of the two strategies to get the best of both approaches.

Calabrese identified three key areas that would be optimal for spectrum sharing, namely bands from 2900 MHz to 3700 MHz used by military radar systems; bands from 4400 MHz to 4500 MHz; 4800 MHz to 4940 MHz used by the Department of Defense and other law enforcement; and, finally, a commercial band from 12.5 GigaHertz (GHz) to 12.7 GHz.

As a child of American parents working abroad, Reporter Ben Kahn was raised as a third culture kid, growing up in five different countries, including the U.S.. He is a recent graduate of the University of Baltimore, where he majored in Policy, Politics, and International Affairs. He enjoys learning about foreign languages and cultures and can now speak poorly in more than one language.

Section 230

Sen. Mike Lee Promotes Bills Valuing Federal Spectrum, Requiring Content Moderation Disclosures

Tim White

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Screenshot of Mike Lee taken from Silicon Slopes event

April 5, 2021 – Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said Friday spectrum used by federal agencies is not being utilized efficiently, following legislation he introduced early last year that would evaluate the allocation and value of federally-reserved spectrum.

The Government Spectrum Valuation Act, or S.553 and introduced March 3, directs the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to consult with the Federal Communications Commission and Office of Management and Budget to estimate the value of spectrum between 3 kilohertz and 95 gigahertz that is assigned to federal agencies.

Lee spoke at an event hosted by the Utah tech association Silicon Slopes on Friday about the legislation, in addition to other topics, including Section 230.

Some bands on the spectrum are reserved for federal agencies as they need it, but it’s not always managed efficiently, Lee said. Some are used by the Department of Defense for ‘national security,’ for example, but when asked what that spectrum is used for, we’re told, ‘we can’t tell you because of national security,’ he said.

“Just about everything we do on the internet is carried out through a mobile device, and all of that requires access to spectrum,” he said.

He said that lives are becoming more affected and enhanced by our connection to the internet, often through a wireless connection, which is increasing the need for the government to efficiently manage spectrum bandwidth, he said. Some of the bands are highly valuable, he said, comparing them to the “beach front property” of spectrum.

Legislation changing Section 230

Lee also spoke on Section 230, a statute that protects online companies from liability for content posted by their users. It’s a hot topic for policymakers right now as they consider regulating social media platforms.

Both Republicans and Democrats want more regulation for tech companies, but for different reasons. Democrats want more moderation against alleged hate speech or other content, citing the January 6 riot at the Capitol as one example of not enough censorship. Republicans on the other hand, including Lee, allege social media companies censor or remove right-leaning political content but do not hold the same standard for left-leaning content.

Lee highlighted that platforms have the right to be as politically-biased as they want, but it’s a problem when their terms of service or CEOs publicly state they are neutral, but then moderate content from a non-neutral standpoint, he said.

Lee expressed hesitation about repealing or changing Section 230. “If you just repealed it altogether, it would give, in my view, an undo advantage to big market incumbents,” he said. One solution is supplementing Section 230 with additional clarifying language or new legislation, he said.

That’s why he came up with the Promise Act, legislation he introduced on February 24 that would require the disclosure of rules for content moderation, and permit the Federal Trade Commission to take corrective action against companies who violate those disclosed rules. “I don’t mean it to be an exclusive solution, but I think it is a reasonably achievable step toward some type of sanity in this area,” he said.

Senator Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and a couple of her colleagues also drafted Section 230 legislation that would maintain the spirit of the liability provision, but would remove it for paid content.

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FCC

Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr Optimistic About Finding Common Ground at Agency

Samuel Triginelli

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Screenshot of FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr from C-Span

March 24, 2021 — Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr said the regulator has since 2017 seen what he wanted: Broadband speed increases and lower prices.

“The approach we adopted in 2017 is working,” he said at the Free State Foundation’s 13th annual telecom policy conference on Tuesday. “Speeds have increased, prices are down, and we see more competition than ever before; we need to keep it that way,” he said, stressing the importance of reinforcing the good work the previous administration did and continues to do.

Carr, who has been a part of the FCC since 2012 in various capacities and through different compositions, said the transition into the new administration is going well.

In contrast to before, when it seemed as though the “sky was falling” and there were many problems with net neutrality, today’s reality is quite different, thanks to Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, he said.

The chairwoman contacted him almost immediately after she asked him to participate an event together on telehealth. There have been a lot of conversations and compromises since that moment, he said.

He said elections do bring some consequences, and undoubtedly have shaken some of the agency’s previous standards with a different party in leadership. However, he said the FCC has been finding common ground, something that “has been all too rare in the past couple of years.”

He added that, in 2016, experts and analysts weren’t painting a very rosy picture for the US future leadership when it comes to 5G. One of the primary reasons cited was the cost and length of time to build out the Internet infrastructure in this country, he said.

“We went from 708 new cell sites in 2017 to over 46,000. The progress is astounding, and not only with towers but with fiber, as we built 450k miles of fiber in just one year alone.”

Spectrum auctions driving the agenda, Carr says

Optimistic on spectrum, he pointed out that at present, there is a lot of it available. “In 2017, the FCC had previously voted in a lot of higher band spectrum options.”

The work of initial prioritization was completed by us before 2017 when we moved in and noticed the lack of midband spectrum in the pipeline. We had to move fast, and we had the first auction for the midband in 2020, with frequencies ranging from 3.5 to 5.5 gigahertz.

Over the last couple of years, he said the FCC has opened that band to intensive use, pushing the midband spectrum a great deal. The future holds the need to create a spectrum calendar with a rough outline of spectrum auctions, including which bands are available for auction and when, he said. “I have already filled in that calendar.”

He said the regulator’s challenge is not with a lack of communication but with coordination.  “We need the FCC to take a step back and consider the public interest, how the agency can best achieve the federal missions and how it can best do this. Even if there are going to be disagreements, it is paramount to ensure that the American economy stays competitive.”

Looking ahead, Carr said the 5.9 gigahertz project, which last year was on trial to expand rural broadband access, would be a great beginning to prove that good leadership and compromise are possible between both parties.

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Spectrum

In Call For Open Radio Access Network, FCC Chairwoman Points to Security and Cost Savings

Benjamin Kahn

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Photo of Jessica Rosenworcel from January 2015 by the Internet Education Foundation used with permission

March 18, 2021—The FCC on Wednesday launched its first official inquiry into the status and trajectory of open radio access network technology, with the acting chairwoman suggesting the search for new network vendors must ramp up.

The open RAN movement has gained significant momentum since Huawei was banned over the past 18 months.

Proponents of the movement argue that it may increase competition in the market surrounding radio access network hardware, particularly for silicon chips, because it allow more companies to enter the space traditionally locked out due to proprietary technologies held by few companies.

5G deployment is one of the FCC’s top priorities over the next couple of years. One of the ways the FCC prioritized accomplishing this is the use of spectrum auctions. However, this new inquiry indicates that the FCC is seeking other avenues to accelerate 5G deployment.

The primary goal of the notice is to “seek comment on the current status of Open RAN development and deployment in American networks and abroad,” according to an agency press release. It attempts to determine the role of incumbent hardware manufacturers, new entrants, and the standards for the architecture of the network.

Additionally, the agency is inquiring about the challenges and considerations that various government and private sector stakeholders face as they pursue manufacturing, integration, and deployment of open RAN technology.

During a talk hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Thursday, Acting Chairwoman of the FCC Jessica Rosenworcel outlined key elements of the FCC’s strategy in expediting the roll-out of 5G.

In her concluding remarks, she stated that while slowing down the progress of what she called “untrusted” hardware vendors, such as Huawei, has been the priority for the FCC in recent years, the organization must shift its focus to pursuing new vendors simultaneously.

She pointed to the previous day’s inquiry as a first step toward addressing this goal. “If we can unlock the [radio access network] and diversify the equipment in this part of our networks, we may be able to increase security, reduce our exposure to any single foreign vendor, [and] lower costs.” She also stated that prioritizing open RAN would overall benefit the U.S. economy.

Recalling the FCC’s spectrum auctions, Rosenworcel continued: “Of course, our network equipment is only as good as the spectrum it runs on.  So, we are not slowing down there either.” She stated that the 3.45-3.55 Gigahertz band auction that was just authorized would play a crucial role in supporting open RAN technology and the implementation of 5G.

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